Few things in life can match the awesomeness of seeing wild animals strut their stuff. But before you splash out on a khaki-filled wardrobe, check our handy list of tips for safari newbies. It covers everything from why you should get up in the middle of the night to camera equipment, and yes, zip-off pants.
Waking up at the crack of dawn on your safari pays off in spades.

1. The early bird has the best experience

Setting an alarm clock for the crack of dawn is usually what we go on vacation to escape. However, on a safari, you’ll be itching to get up and go in the early hours of the morning. Sunrise drives are one of the most magical experiences you can have while on a safari. At the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, you can even float over the reserve in a hot-air balloon during sunrise.

Enjoy the majestic sunrise in the Kruger National Park on a 7-hour morning safari.

2. It’s gettin’ hot in here, so take off a layer of clothes

Temperatures can sway from one extreme to the other on a safari. Those early morning drives (or hot-air balloon rides) will involve wrapping up warm. However, these experiences often stretch into the early afternoon, which — even in winter — can be quite hot. That means you’ll want to layer up and shed items of clothes when the temperature starts to rise. Did someone say zip-off pants? 

Get back to nature and get up close to the wildlife of Nairobi on a 7-hour tour of Nairobi National Park.

3. Save the safari fashion for when it’s really needed 

You don’t need to cram your suitcase full of camouflage gear if you’re taking a traditional 4×4 safari. You can pretty much wear what you want: the comfier, the better. But, if your heart is set on a more active experience, like a walking safari, you may want to try your best to blend in with the surroundings so as not to scare off the big cats. If you opt for a walking safari, make sure to bring a comfy pair of shoes so you can attempt to outrun a cheetah. Just kidding — nobody wants blisters while out in the bush!

Make sure you bring the right camera on your trip. This is no time for blurry pics!

4. Bring the right camera equipment (but don’t overpack)

Snapping the wildlife you come across can be a tricky task. You’ll often be viewing these magnificent animals from afar or as they speed past. For the best pics, you’ll have to swap your smartphone for a sleek, modern camera with a kick-ass zoom. Unless you’re a pro photographer, you no longer need high-end, bulky lenses. Today’s DSLR cameras and lenses let you travel light while still capturing amazing shots. 

Take a 3-day tour and experience a game drive, a guided bushwalking safari, and canoeing in the wilderness.

5. Make your trip extra special

You can customize your safari to make it a truly unforgettable experience. Sure, traditional lodge-based safaris still pack a wow, but there are also really wild ones that involve flying in a light aircraft to different camps. So if you want to ditch the 4×4 in favor of an adventure-laden walking, canoeing, flying, or luxury safari, go right ahead. You can also go it alone with a self-guided driving tour. These are perfect if you’re strapped for time as you’re in charge of the schedule. 

Sometimes, the right shot requires a little (or a lot) of waiting and watching.

6. Remember that patience is a virtue

A lion isn’t lurking around every corner. You need a whole lot of patience and a certain amount of luck to see the Big 5 and their friends. Although there’s no guarantee you’ll spot any of them, your guides have spent years studying these animals, so they know their habits better than anyone. If you’re getting frustrated with a lack of sightings, worry not, as your guides have a route in mind. It just takes a little patience. 

Pay attention to what your guide says — following the rules isn’t just polite, it’s a way to stay safe and respect the environment you’re visiting.

7. Listen to your guide at all times

Being a mindful traveler while on safari is all about common sense. It’s important to listen to your guide at all times. They’re not just there to help you spot animals — they’re also charged with keeping you safe and ensuring you respect the animals in their natural habitat. Keep noise to a minimum, turn phones to silent, and never leave the vehicle without permission. 

Head to Tanzania and Kenya in August and September to witness the Great Migration.

8. Find the best time to go

South Africa is the world’s premier safari destination, and you’re likely to see lions, elephants, hippos, and more no matter when you visit. However, your chances of spotting animals dramatically increase in winter (June to September) when the leafless trees mean hiding places are sparse. If you’re looking for a really wild experience, then head to the vast plains of Tanzania and Kenya in August and September to witness the Great Migration. Over 1.5 million animals venture 1,000 miles north in one of the world’s most incredible natural spectacles.

One of the most important parts of any safari? Where you lay your head at night.

9. Take your pick of accommodation

From wild camping to luxury lodge living, there’s a whole host of accommodation options out there. It’s all about conducting some research and finding the right option for you. If you don’t want to leave the bright city lights for long, you can book a day safari. There are tons within easy reach of cities like Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

Plan your safari